Any bad cooks turn great? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 9 Old 09-10-2010, 06:48 PM - Thread Starter
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I've been having a really bad run of things in the kitchen. Has anyone here been a bad to so-so cook, and then learned to be great?

Or are great cooks just born, not made?

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#2 of 9 Old 09-10-2010, 07:26 PM
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I never knew how to cook, I don't recall my mom ever making anything "from scratch" besides meatloaf. I taught myself to cook, idk that I'd say I'm a "great cook" but I always get compliments and dh loves to brag about my cooking My Betty Crocker New Cookbook was pretty helpful, it explains different cooking techniques and how to cook basically every cut of meat of veggie you could think of.
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#3 of 9 Old 09-10-2010, 08:18 PM
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Me! Me!

Growing up, my mother wanted us to focus on an academic education so badly that she did all the cooking for us through university. Needless to say, I have a great education...but could not cook! Nothing! It was horrible!

Stumbled around in the dark with DH when we first got married...had LOTS of uh-oh's and wasted experiments. We ate out a lot.

Then I had candida, and had to totally overhaul my diet. My naturopath gave me The Talk about food and the effect on your body. I was always fit, with lots of energy, so never bothered to consciously eat healthy or well. That was the first 'turn around'. Sounds stupid, but didn't even occur to me.

THEN I got pregnant, and was *terrified* at the thought of having to cook healthy meals for kids without knowing ANYthing.

I went into research mode. I read everything on nutrition, food, cooking, health, food immunity, etc. I made charts. I took notes.

Then I taught myself to cook. I borrowed every library cooking book. Would spend hours experimenting, making notes in my recipes, adjusting things.

I made my mom and grandma - who are PHENOMENAL cooks - guide me through every single thing they made (cooking it in front of me), and I wrote it down; I made a cookbook (and distributed to family).

Youtube. Blogs. etc. I slogged away at it.

Now...I am a fabulous cook. And I know about food science. And nutrition. Probably moreso (I think) than if I grew up cooking, because I was a blank slate.

I learned that you need to make something at least 3 times to get it perfect. Don't even bother judging it the first time you make it...always needs tweaking.

I learned that a cooking instinct is made, over time.

I learned that no recipe - other than baking (but even then) - needs to be measured exactly - put more in of the taste you love.

Ingredients are now my friend, like paints on a palette.

Youtube, and any video cooking site, are boons! Very very good resources.

I'm becoming a healthy gourmet. I use a pressure cooker and crockpot constantly.

There is hope

My 'go to' basic classic cookbooks, that are so used, old and falling apart (EVERY recipe in these books WORK):

- Joy of Cooking (every single recipe here WORKS)
- America's Test Kitchen - any title (they have a writeup on why they do what they do, which ingredients taste best, and how to do stuff)
- Martha Stewart - website and baking book

Good luck! If I could do it, anyone could!
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#4 of 9 Old 09-11-2010, 09:41 AM
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My mother rarely cooked from scratch when we were growing up in the 60's and 70's. My sisters were better cooks than she was, and as the youngest, I was *never* in the kitchen for my childhood and most of my teen years. In college, I thought Hamburger Helper was an AMAZING accomplishment. In fact, true story, an old boyfriend had a bottle of french wine he had brought back from France in the 70's. When we drank it (in the 80's, so it was 10 or 12 years old), I served it with Hamburger Helper... only to find out years later when I knew more about wine that the bottle was a $120 bottle of wine!!!! I thought I had done it justice with the HH. Little did I know!

Then, after college, I moved to Russia. Guess what... no pre-packed, processed foods. I had a paperback Betty Crocker that I literally threw in my luggage at the last minute and that was it for cooking information (no internet back then). I was forced to learn to cook from scratch or starve... quite literally. This was the boot camp of cooking for me and I did have some help from friends and neighbors (often older babuskas that loved teaching a young woman their family recipes), but mostly it was that BC paperback.

It's now 20 - 25 years later and if others' comments are to go by, I'm a pretty damned good cook (my aunt calls me a gourmet cook, even). I cook 98% from scratch... crackers and breads being the one thing I rarely bake (but I can). I never took a class, it was just years, decades even of trial and error. To this day, my mother can't cook her way out of a paper bag. She lives with us and is happy to leave the cooking to me.

I was a horrible cook 25 years ago. I mean, I cooked, and could follow processed food directions (rice... from a box; sauce... from a box/packet; casserole... from a box and/or can). Now I can and do make it all with real ingredients and I cook cuisines from around the world. If I'm anything to go by... cooks are MADE just as often as they are BORN (and I do think some of the amazing celebrity chefs we know today were born to cook).
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#5 of 9 Old 09-11-2010, 05:30 PM
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Great cooks can definitely be made. I've been working on it for about 6 years now.
I read up on everything. Techniques, ingredients, the science behind it all, and it's all been helpful.
Understanding how things work can make mistakes less common.
Oh and a good couple of knives is helpful

I too used to think that box brownies and those kits where you add chicken and bake were considered "homemade".
Now I can't imagine any pasta with jarred sauce (be it a marinara or alfredo or what have you), frozen ravioli, canned enchilada sauce, or anything involving bisquik. I can even make my own pasta now. Word on the street is my cooking is all pretty yummy tasting too.

Just keep at it, with every mistake you learn something new. Helpful magazines are Cooking Club of America (really good recipes), and Cook's Illustrated, which is pricey, but awesome. (I think Cook's Illustrated is the same group as America's Test Kitchen)
A basic cookbook for techniques is good to have too, something to teach things like how to blanch, how to make a roux, substitutions, stuff like that, even if you already know a lot of it.
And my personal favorite, the internet, Google can tell you anything
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#6 of 9 Old 09-11-2010, 09:07 PM
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I am not a great cook, but I am learning. DH went to culinary school and cooks for a living, so I have an advantage in certain ways....and not in others (why bother when he can do it better ). When I ask him to tell me specifically step-by-step how to make something, then I can usually reproduce it on my own later. I think the key is having someone (or magazines or videos on youtube) that can teach you how to do it. And it's like a snowball effect - the more you learn, the easier it gets.
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#7 of 9 Old 09-11-2010, 10:52 PM
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I taught myself to cook a few years ago out of necessity. I wanted to do traditional foods to heal from some pretty bad health problems. (And I did!)My husband remember me cooking hours a day (I was also sick so that did not help) trying to learn. Now over 4 years later I cook for people all the time and they comment postivtely (and so does dh).

Now I can make just about anything I want from scratch: soups, breads, gravies, pate, desserts ect. I want to get into some French cooking next because I like meats and sauces. It gets so much easuer after you learn some basics and get confident in the kitchen. It also becomes more fun because you can be I can modify and not measure sometimes without stressing.

I like The Joy of Cooking and Nourishing Traditions for learning to cook. I have also heard the book How to Cook Anything (or something like that) is good. Just find some recipes you want to eat and start

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#8 of 9 Old 09-12-2010, 12:02 AM
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My mom died when I was young, and we were turned over to a housekeeper who couldn't cook. We rarely saw our dad. So we ate a lot of frozen pizza and boxed foods, pb&j, that kind of thing. Whatever your average 12 yo could manage without adult help.

When he remarried, food improved, if nothing else did, since his wife likes to cook, but wasn't interested in teaching.

When I was 15, I was an exchange student in Russia and realized that I couldn't make anything without a cookbook - I didn't even know where to start. Food was so limited, and the family I was living with seemed fairly content to eat the same thing day in and day out (fried potatoes, bread & butter, the occasional sausage). Heavy on the starches, since food was still rationed. I learned what I could with what produce we could get ahold of while I was there. And when I came home, I learned. And I haven't stopped learning since.

I'll go through phases where I just want to learn one type/style of food, and right now it's Indian. I'll read whatever I can, cook it as often as I have the time/energy and learn what I like. I'm very lucky that my DH is an adventurous eater, so even my "failures" never go to waste.

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#9 of 9 Old 09-12-2010, 06:46 AM
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my mom was a pretty good cook when i was a kid (in the 80's/early 90's) but she kind of gave up on it when she and my dad split in '95. after that, there was a lot of sandwiches and cold cereal and mac 'n' cheese 'n' hotdogs for me and my little sister.

at that point, i knew how to do the really basic stuff (eggs, grilled cheese, etc), could follow directions on a box fantastically well, and if forced to it, i could make a quick banana bread or cake from scratch.

when my DH and i moved out of my mom's place with our 1yo ds, i decided that i since i now had my own kitchen, i was going to *gasp* cook in it. so, slowly, i learned. i collected a few cookbooks, got a subscription to taste of home and quick cooking magazines, and started figuring out how to do all this stuff.

that was almost 11 years ago.

now, i look in the cupboard, the freezer, the fridge, and think "hmm, i bet i can do something with that" and start tossing stuff into a pan until i have something that tastes pretty good i get creative with the recipes i have, and the meal or cake or whatever usually barely resembles the original recipe because i add this, and sub that, and change this... i measure spices in my hand and eyeball the amount of oil or milk i need. and, other than a few spectacular failures, such as the turkey-bean loaf (just don't ask) and the buckwheat bread that could have been used as a paving stone, among a few others, i think i'm pretty good.

my DH will eat just about anything, so i don't rely on him, i go by the neighbours that ask me for recipes and ask me to bring stuff for potlucks and then ask for the recipes

so, yes, i think you can go from being a so-so cook to being a good or even great cook.

oh, and, just to point out that even good cooks have issues, there are 2 things i'm no longer allowed to do in the kitchen, because i have proven myself incapable of them. the first is frying anything in more than a dab of oil (no fried chicken around here), which includes pan frying bacon. the second is making rice krispie treats. ever. ever. again.

"give me life, give me pain, give me myself again" - tori amos
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